Wednesday, January 25, 2023

On Intermodal Competition for Broadband, the FCC's Competition Report Falls Short

On January 24, Free State Foundation published Senior Fellow Andrew Long's Perspectives from FSF Scholars, "On Video, the FCC's Competition Report Falls Short." In that incisive paper, Mr. Long focuses on the 2022 Marketplace Competition Report's treatment of the competitive market and Commission policy for video programming distribution. The evidence of video programming distribution market transformation brought about by the observable ongoing subscriber declines for multi-channel video programming distributor (MVPD) services and by continuing increases in subscriptions for Internet-based alternatives is overwhelming. This transformation has uprooted the perceived analog cable distribution bottleneck upon which the legacy video regulatory apparatus depended. Yet many outdated restrictions on MVPD services remain firmly in place. And Mr. Long makes a strong case that the FCC's report is not fully compliant with the RAY BAUM's Act of 2018's requirements that the Commission identify laws and regulations that pose barriers to competitive expansion of existing providers of communications services and that the agency lay out an agenda for addressing those challenges.

But there is another area in which the FCC's 2020 report comes up short: assessing intermodal competition in the broadband Internet services market. As acknowledged by the report, the RAY BAUM's Act states: "As part of its evaluation, the Commission must consider all forms of competition, including 'the effect of intermodal competition, facilities-based competition, and competition from new and emergent communications services.'" Yet the report never engaged in any substantive assessment of the effects of competition across different broadband technology platforms. Perhaps the closest the report gets is in paragraph 157, which touches on wireline/wireless substitutability:  

Many households continue to subscribe to both fixed and mobile broadband service, suggesting that these separate services offer benefits that are either complementary or independent of each other. Technological innovation in and increased deployment of both the mobile wireless and fixed broadband services markets have broadened consumers’ possible choices of how to access the Internet. 

This shortcoming of the 2022 report is the subject of Commissioner Brendan Carr's statement partially approving and partially concurring in the report: 

When we adopted the Commission’s prior Communications Marketplace Report in 2020, I voted to approve in part and concur in part because, in my view, we could have gone further in recognizing the converged market for connectivity. I continue to have that view this go around. 

FSF's comments to the FCC for its 2020 Communications Marketplace Report also called for a shift away from the siloed approach to discrete service technologies and toward a more serious intermodal competition assessment. To that end, FSF scholars recommended that the Commission adopt a product market definition that encompasses different technologies that provide broadband Internet services. (Those same views were expressed in short form in comments filed by FSF for the 2022 report.) FSF's comments for the 2020 report regarding intermodal competition assessments could double as a critique of the 2022 report, as competition from and among fiber, 5G, FWA, and cable MVNOs continues to increase.